Local differences in paleohydrology have stronger influence on plant biomarkers than regional climate change across two Paleogene Laramide Basins, Wyoming, USA

Lauren Azevedo-Schmidt, Aaron F. Diefendorf, Kristen Schlanser, Allison A. Baczynski, Marieke Dechesne, Regan Dunn, Katherine H. Freeman, Ellen D. Currano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Plant biomarkers in the geologic record are commonly used to reconstruct paleovegetation and paleoclimate. Yet the representativeness of these biomarker-based reconstructions is not entirely straightforward because both local and regional climatic influences are convolved in the recovered biomarker composition. Furthermore, geomorphic processes including sedimentation, deposition, burial rates, and surface and groundwater levels can also influence biomarker preservation and taphonomy. The combination of leaf compression fossils with the biomarker record provides a robust framework in which ecological reconstructions can be made. Herein we present a case study examining the biomarker responses to a major regional climatic signal, the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), from local effects in two basins with different paleohydrology: the Hanna Basin (HB) and Bighorn Basin (BHB), in Wyoming (USA). Data collected include (1) leaf wax n-alkanes and plant-derived non-steroidal di- and triterpenoids, (2) pristane/phytane vs. terrestrial to aquatic ratio (Pr/Ph:TAR), plant material source proxy (Paq), hopanes, and bacteria which provide constraints on organic matter sourcing, redox conditions, and bacterial inputs, and (3) carbon (δ13Cn-alk) and hydrogen (δ2Hn-alk) isotopic compositions of plant wax n-alkanes. We find the two basins differed significantly in weight % total organic carbon (TOC), alkane and terpenoid concentrations, and δ13Cn-alk and δ2Hn-alk values. We examined the effects of δ13Catm on δ13Cn-alk values by assuming comparable regional climate in the two basins. Differences in paleohydrology and paleovegetation were assessed using the above proxies and previously published paleobotanical data. Local paleohydrologic conditions, an abiotic factor, likely drove variability in plant biomarker preservation and paleovegetation structure. Notably, an abundance of water in the HB during the PETM created a conifer refugium while drying within the BHB caused a local extirpation. This study highlights the importance of considering the influence of local environment, specifically paleohydrology, on the local fossil record and the need to compare multiple sites to disentangle regional climate effects on terrestrial plant communities. Distinguishing local from regional differences is imperative if we are to understand how ecosystems respond to future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number110977
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Jun 15 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Palaeontology


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